Wednesday, 10 May 2017

What do you do when someone hates you?




So, somebody hates you.

Perhaps they have grounds for that dislike.

Maybe it is a Jacob and Esau situation.
Esau had every reason to hate Jacob. Jacob had taken advantage of his weakness, deceived him, and stolen what was his.
And maybe somebody hates you because you have hurt them. You've walked out on them in a relationship; you've said things or done things that have deeply hurt them; you've stolen from them; you’ve treated them as dirt

And when others have reason to hate us, then we need to do something about it.
We need to acknowledge the other person’s reason for being angry with us.
We need to say sorry, and - in so far as it is possible - we need to begin to put things right, with saying sorry
Of course, we are good at deceiving ourselves.
I remember one man, who was a member of one of the churches where I have served. He walked out on his wife for someone else. And rather than face up to the reality of what he had done, of how he had hurt her and his children, he demonised her. She had made his life hell for so many years, he said.
We knew them. It was not just true. Oh and a few years later the younger model that he had left his wife for, walked out on him. As an aside – although maybe for one person here, this is why God brought you today - please men, and I am particularly speaking to us, we need to think with our head and not with our groin.

If someone hates us for a reason, we need to be real and honest.
We need to acknowledge that we have hurt them and that they have a reason to hate us.
And we need to realise that trust may never be built up to what it was before, but we have to take steps so that they know we realise what we have done and that we are really sorry.

This is hard, but it really is at the centre of what being a Christian is all about. We’re human. We’re fallen. We will hurt people – intentionally and unintentionally. What matters is what we then do.
In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that if we are about to make an offering to God and we remember not if we have got something against our brother and sister, but ‘if your brother or sister has something against you’. And, he says, in that situation, you are to leave your gift there – and go and be reconciled to that person. As Paul writes, ‘As far as it is up to you, live at peace with all people’.

Or maybe it is a David and Saul situation.
David had done nothing to make Saul hate him.
The only thing that he had done was serve Saul with distinction.

But because of that, Saul was jealous of David.
He knew that God had left him and that God was with David.
He knew that the future lay with David.
And so he saw David as a threat.

This is harder. Someone has something against you, and there is nothing you have done!
For me, at least, this is quite unusual! If someone has something against me, then it usually is about something that I have not done or something that I have done which has hurt them.

But, as in this case, there are times when people are jealous because it seems that you have succeeded and they have not; you have got what they wanted; or they are jealous because things seem to be easy for you and not for them; or that people have favoured you and not them; or you have got the breaks and they haven’t.

Or they may hate you or discriminate against you because you are different to them and that makes you an easy target. They can build themselves up by belittling you. Or they hate you because your difference threatens them.

Jesus warns his followers that the world will hate us because we are believers.
At St Mary’s this year, our theme is being different. It is about the challenge that if we do take Jesus seriously, we will be different. We will owe allegiance to a different authority; we will see people in a different way; we will have different priorities and we will pursue a different goal.

And that difference will threaten people, especially if God is starting to speak to them and they are feeling challenged, and it will make us an easy target.
And so there will be ridicule and mockery and discrimination, and there will be persecution.

Anyway, somebody hates you. They have demonised you. They want to destroy you.

How as a Christian do you respond to that hate?

1 Samuel 24 is one of many great stories in the Old Testament

And David’s response to Saul offers us a model of how a Christian believer can respond to that kind of hatred.

It is quite remarkable.

This is serious, life and death, business. David has been pursued by Saul. He can’t settle anywhere. Those who support him have been murdered by Saul. And now, David is hiding in a cave, and Saul is out there looking for him with 3000 of his crack troops.
But suddenly the whole situation is reversed. Saul walks into the very cave that David is hiding in. He comes in, as one American version put it, ‘to go to the bathroom’. He doesn’t realise that David is back there. And now Saul is completely in David’s hands. His men are saying, ‘This is a miracle. This must be of God. If you let him live, you know he will never change, but you can end it now once and for all’. And they press him, ‘Let us kill him’.

But David doesn’t. Instead he lets Saul walk.

Three very simple guidelines. If someone hates you,

1.      You pray for some opportunity to do good to the person who hates you

That is radical. It is being different.

But it is what Jesus says:
‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you’. (Luke 6.27-28)
And Paul in Romans writes, ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse .. Do not repay anyone evil for evil .. if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’ (Romans 12.20)

And 1 Samuel 24 is an illustration of what that means in practice.

David lets Saul walk. He could have killed him. He saves Saul’s life.
He does it, not because he is against taking revenge – elsewhere he does take revenge on his enemies – but because he is convinced that Saul is God’s anointed ruler.

This is one of those passages that shakes the foundations of our self-centred individualism to its very core. We think nothing of cutting the corner of the robes of those in authority. We mock or deride them. And yes, I know that the United Kingdom is not Israel, and that we have moved a bit of a way from the Tudor and Stuart doctrine of the divine right of rulers. But we must not forget that Paul writes in Romans 13 that all authorities are established by God, and that we are to ‘honour the emperor’. And Paul writes that when, like David, he was facing persecution from the very authority that he was affirming.

We thank God that we live in a democracy and that we have the right of free speech. But that does not mean that we can mock our rulers, or simply carry on doing our own thing.
As Christian believers, we should be the first to show a deep respect to those in authority. It does not matter what their personal life is like, or whether we agree with them or not. We honour the position and not necessarily the person who fills the position.
And that respect should not change even if they choose to persecute us. We are the people who should be the first in showing respect to councillors, mayors, judges, headteachers, referees, police officers.
And we do not always have to obey – think of Daniel who refused to obey Darius’ order when he declared that for a period everybody was to pray to him – but when we disobey, we do it with respect and we expect to face the consequences for our actions. 

And although David is mortified that he has cut off the corner of Saul’s robe, and that he has even thought of taking Saul’s life, by letting Saul walk, David has done good to his enemy. He has blessed the one who is persecuting him.

So if someone hates you, what about starting by praying to God that he would give you an opportunity to do them good?
I have no idea what that could be: Giving them some money; standing up for them publicly when others are cursing them; taking the very awkward neighbour a cake – no, not with arsenic in it - and with no strings attached.

2.      You pray for an opportunity to speak the truth to them

David, having spared Saul’s life, has an opportunity to speak with Saul.

He is very honest. He tells Saul about the good that he has done, and then he challenges Saul, ‘Why are you doing this to me?’ He declares his innocence. He tells Saul that he would do nothing to harm him because he believes that he is God’s anointed ruler. And he also uses God language. He appeals to God – to God’s justice and to God’s vindication.

And please note, and this is important, that David does not use holier than thou language. He doesn’t take the moral high ground.
He sees himself starkly. ‘Against whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a flea?’ In effect he is saying, ‘I am nothing. Certainly, as far as the world is concerned, I am nobody’.
It is a really good line to take with those who hate us: ‘Why bother. I’m nothing. I’m nobody’.
I do sometimes think that when the media go on a Christian-bashing campaign.
What is it about us that is so offensive. Yes, maybe in the past when we exercised power, when bishops shaped government policy, when you had to be a solid member of the Church of England to get on the world. But now?
Oh, for the good old days!

And of course people will take offence if they think we are being holier than thou. But that is not what I see in David here. It is not what I see when I read Paul. He does not boast of his achievements but of his weaknesses. He describes himself as ‘the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world’ (v13)
And when David appeals to God, he doesn’t say, ‘May God judge you’, but ‘May the Lord be our judge and decide between us’ (v15).

So, if someone hates you, pray that you will have an opportunity to speak the truth.
That doesn’t mean that we pray for an opportunity to justify ourselves.
But pray that you may have the opportunity, if it is true, to tell them how their charge against you is not true. ‘I didn’t say that about you; I wouldn’t say that about you – or if it seems that that is what I said, it really is not what I meant, and I am sorry’.
And pray that you may have the opportunity to tell them that you know that you are utterly insignificant as far as this world is concerned.

Forgive me for saying this, but you are! When you consider the size of this universe, and when you consider that there are currently 7 billion plus people alive on this earth, who are you?
But speak also, as a Christian, of the Father in heaven who knows you and who loves you, and before whose judgement seat you will stand and they will stand. Remember that you will only be saved by mercy. And pray for them, that they might come to know that love of God, so that your enemy might become your friend for eternity in Jesus.


3.      Trust God to do his work, but be wise!

David does not need to take matters into his own hands, because he stakes his life on the truth that God is judge, and there will be judgement.

For those of us who have not judged ourselves correctly in this world, there is going to be a pretty dreadful shock.
For those of us who have judged ourselves correctly, who know that we have fallen short, and who have called on Jesus for mercy, there is abundant forgiveness and vindication.

There will be justice. And so we can commit ourselves and the situation into God’s hands.

There will be justice then, but there is also justice now.
We see that in this passage.
Saul sees himself very clearly. He weeps. He confesses to David, ‘You are more righteous than I. You have treated me well and I have treated you badly’ (v17)

Perhaps you know one of the story lines in Les Miserables. Javert, the law, is pursuing Jean Val Jean, who many years earlier jumped parole. It is an echo of this story. Javert believes bad about Val Jean, that a man cannot change, and he will not give up. And then comes the cave moment. Jean Val Jean saves Javert’s life. He does good to his enemy. But Javert cannot take it. That act of kindness shakes everything that he has staked his life on. And he commits suicide.

Perhaps that is what Paul means when he writes, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head’ (Romans 12.20)

It is not that we do good to those who hate us in order to heap burning coals on their head. We do good to them so that they might come to know Christ, and become our friend in Christ. But often in the judgement of God, our acts of kindness do heap burning coals on their head.

And even if we do not see that judgement here, my brothers and sisters, if people hate you for no good reason, there will be judgement then.

We can do good to our enemy,
We can speak the truth to them
We can even see signs of God’s judgement on them ..
but we still need to be wise!
I note that at the end of this passage Saul returns home, ‘but David and his men went up to the stronghold’. David knew that it wasn’t over. He had done good to Saul; he had proclaimed good to Saul, but he didn’t trust Saul. He could not trust him. He knew that the demons of fear and jealousy would once again overwhelm Saul and that he would come David-hunting.
And he was right. The whole thing happens again in 1 Samuel 26

Blessing your enemy, doing good to your enemy, forgiving your enemy does not mean that you can trust them. It means, I guess, that you are open to learning to trust them again.
But you need to be wise; there are times when you need your stronghold, your strong tower.
For David, that was a physical space. But for David his strong tower was also his God.


What do you do when someone hates you?
If they hate you for a reason, you say sorry and you look to try to sort it out and to start to rebuild trust, in so far as the other person wants. They have to set the agenda

If they hate you for no reason:
Pray for an opportunity to do them good
Pray for an opportunity to speak the truth – the truth about who you are (nothing, nobody), and the truth about who God is – the God of justice who vindicates
Pray that you may have the grace and the strength to leave the situation in the hands of God.

Someone once said
To do evil to someone when they have done you good is demonic.
To do good to someone when they have done you good is human.

But to do good to someone when they have done evil to you, is divine.  

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